After Dark

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Thunderstorms in the Rocky Mountains are usually fierce, quick affairs that vanish as fast as they come. It’s rare for a storm to just linger, especially during monsoon season. The wildlife acts that way too, as if Mother Nature is setting the example by which the rest of the natural world lives. Cougars, bobcats, and wolves, especially, show up without much warning, then saunter off, seeming to melt away into the landscape. Even after a lifetime of living in the Rockies, I’m still in awe of the inherent invisibility of deer or elk when they stand still, their presence only betrayed by shifting sunlight, wind snaking through cheatgrass, or your hunting partner spotting one on a ridge you’d already glassed for hours.

The wilderness and the wildlife operate under a sort of polite insurrection where much is predictable, but far more is left to natural machinations which, if man ever understood them at all, are far beyond our modern comprehension.

That’s why the abrupt silence wasn’t cause for immediate concern. I’d been out fishing all day with an old high school buddy named Colby, and we’d done well. The sun had fully slipped below the rolling hills of high Rocky Mountain prairie before either of us called it a day. Bats zipped over the lake, hearing sounds beyond our perception, snagging the last of the mayflies that had hatched in earnest for most of the afternoon. The crickets should’ve been out, making a ruckus. But they were silent.

We had to walk all the way around the lake back to my parked car. The aroma of sagebrush hung thick in the air as we blindly bushwhacked our way back. Colby and I had fished the lake plenty of times before. We knew where we were going, and we knew the land.

Even when the land was unnaturally quiet like it was that night.

After unloading fishing gear into the trunk, I stood in the headlights and stripped to my underwear, checking for ticks. That area is lousy with them, and we had a long drive home ahead of us. Neither Colby nor I wanted to sit in a car for two hours with a tick burrowing away in some painful crevice of our bodies.

I found one, still unattached, trying to crawl inside the waistband of my underwear. I flicked it out past the beam of the headlights, into the dark, as though I were a little kid again and thought that if I couldn’t see the bad thing, it couldn’t see me.

I pulled my jeans back on, buttoned my shirt, and was about to climb into my idling car when Colby got out, leaned across the roof, and said, “Do you see that?”

He pointed back towards the lake. I turned and saw nothing but inky black sky dotted with the brilliance of stars, their light largely unimpeded by humanity. “See what?”

“Some weird lights moving around, right above the lake,” Colby replied. “And some noise, too.”

We fell silent, and that’s when I noticed it – the silence. The crickets weren’t chirping. The air was dead still, with no wind to rustle the sage brush and scrub oak. There was no pitter-patter of rodents, none of the frenzied hopping of rabbits, nor the usual chatter of nighttime animals going about their normal routine.

Just pure, suddenly disturbing silence.

That’s when I saw the lights.

Hovering above the lake.

Three of them – red, blue, and white – pulsated softly against the night sky. The lights rotated, and I noticed something strange. The lights formed a sort of triangle, and in that triangle was a bare patch of sky. No stars. No light. Just darkness.

Then it hit me. That wasn’t just a patch of starless sky – there was something physical, something large and black and unreflective, between those three lights. No, strike that ­– attached to the three lights. A triangular, wide, shape that hovered soundlessly above the lake. The only noise that rolled through the landscape was the slight sound of moving air as the black triangle shifted in place.

I’m not sure how long we stood there, gaping at the floating black triangle with the strange lights on each point. And I don’t know how both Colby and I assumed the same thing without ever speaking. But when we finally tore our attention away from the lights, and looked at each other, I said softly, “Is that . . . a . . . what the . . . it’s not aliens, is it?” From what I could see of Colby’s expression, it was obvious he was thinking something similar.

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The lights moved suddenly, shooting in our direction, impossibly fast. It was as though speaking aloud had broken the spell of silence, and without thinking Colby and I slammed the car doors shut. The car was an old stick shift, and I popped the clutch while flooring the accelerator. We rocketed away in a cloud of dust and gravel, my rear tires spinning on the rough dirt road that meandered for miles before putting us back near a lonely state highway.

I drove as fast as I dared, while Colby kept stealing glances behind us. “The lights are still there,” he hollered. “Still there!”

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that made time stop.

Prancing alongside the car was a doe deer. She had empty black eyes that seemed to bore into mine, through the darkness and through the window. She hopped along, effortlessly keeping pace with the car that was moving at least 50 miles per hour. I glanced at the speedometer one more time, just to make sure.

50 on the dot.

Time resumed its normal speed, and I slammed hard on the brakes, pulled the wheel, and slid through a dusty turn before slipping back into third gear and flooring it again on another straightaway. I glanced out the window, scared at what I knew I’d see.

The deer kept pace, and this time, I swear, it smiled. A human smile, but on a deer’s face. Not like those old cartoons from the late 80s and early 90s, when the mouths of voice actors were superimposed over the animated drawing. No, this was a deer smiling at me with all the cold, threatening menace of someone who, at the very least, wanted me and Colby out of that canyon.

I screamed. I pointed. I shouted. Colby looked, but to this day, says he never saw the deer. I wonder now, in the years that have passed since that dark night, if I even saw it, too.

But I remember those eyes. And that soulless smile. And I know I saw something.

The dirt road kept snaking through a desert canyon. Crumbling, silty walls dotted with sagebrush towered on either side, while bigger, more permanent peaks, stood farther back, noticeable only because of how they blocked out the stars. We were getting close to the end of the dirt road. Then, we’d only have a short drive through a chunk of Native American tribal land before joining the state highway. There, at least, the deer couldn’t keep pace, and the lights couldn’t keep chasing us. Not on an open, frequently used state highway. Right?

The deer and the lights never made it that far. The moment the dirt gave way to asphalt, I looked out my window and saw nothing but empty fields of sagebrush. Colby said the lights just simply vanished. They didn’t fly off, or sink to the ground. They just stopped existing.

I was tempted to stop the car for a moment, to regroup and make sense of the crazy 15-minute ride we’d just had. But the silence outside was deafening, and I didn’t dare stop.

We kept on, both of us not speaking until after I’d stopped for gas and snacks. Then, in low voices, we talked through the night’s events. Colby, like me, had grown up in the Rockies. We’d seen our fair share of frightening sights, but they always had a logical explanation that quickly presented itself. And we’d never worried once about being out after dark. The night is dark, but it’s not full of terrors.

Or is it?

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and guide from Utah. He’s the Owner/Lead Guide of The Utah Fly Fishing Company, the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant. 

1 Comment

  1. Not sure if this was a real experience or not, either way I enjoyed reading it. Sounds like you and Colby might have stumbled on some peyote. LOL! You keep writing, I’ll keep reading. Jim.

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